I would have sworn it was the stray dogs knocking over our trashcan every day, but when I came outside on Sunday morning as my host family was leaving for church, I was graced with the sight of a pregnant goat’s hindquarters and swollen udder, the front half of her body burrowed in the trashcan. My host mom, Lillian, yelled once and slapped the side of the can, which looked like the beat-up trashcan from movies that some city homeless use for fires. The mama goat jolted like an electric current had passed through her body and she darted away after seeing how close we were, her round belly pushing against her legs like a great balloon and making her steps clumsy.
My family throws away so much food, though. Better that someone or something eats it. Do goats even like sorghum porridge? Lillian called our helper, Prisca, to pick up the trash and set the can right. I’m not sure how to feel about having a helper. Growing up, my sister and I had a revolving door of nannies and au pairs, so it’s sort of familiar. But the older I got, the more uncomfortable I became with it all. It seemed like having what is essentially a foreign, live-in domestic worker and babysitter can trigger power trips in the adults and entitlement in the kids. I can only hope I wasn’t a brat, but at the very least, I knew I had been spoiled.
But back to Prisca. She does so much work! She rises early in the morning (it’s rare that I’m up earlier than she is), rolls up her thin mattress, and starts sweeping and mopping. She’ll cook a small pot of porridge for my baby host brother, Thaban, and it bubbles on the stove for at least a good 30 minutes (the porridge doesn’t look overly appetizing, but it’s tastes like a rice porridge, so if you add some brown sugar, you’re good to go). Then she feeds Thaban and he always struggles and cries when he is fed just about anything besides meat or breast milk. I’m not sure what she does during the day, but she also cooks dinner, does laundry, and basically cleans everything. She bakes bread, which is so delicious when it’s hot and fresh out of the oven. I asked her to teach me the next time she makes it. Prisca was also the one who taught me how to hand-wash my clothing a couple weeks back. My host mom said that she would teach me the first night I met her, but Prisca was the one who did it. She’s really quiet and she wouldn’t really respond in the beginning when I would ask her about her day, like she was surprised I was talking to her and trying to chat.
So, as I waved goodbye to my host family (Lillian, Prisca, Thaban, my younger host sister Mandy, and her two visiting cousins. Basically everyone except older sister Lemo), the goat wandered back, but stood at a distance, clearly wary. I could hear two kids playing in the enclosed yard across the street; our house was one of the few in the area with an unfinished wall. A combi on the main street behind our house honked continuously as it cruised by, trying to alert potential riders. I went back inside and turned down the bad Nollywood film Mandy had left playing on the tv and headed to the bathroom to finish my laundry.
The way they hand-wash it at my house is in one of the bathtubs. Prisca demonstrated the first time, filling the tub up 1/3 of the way with cold water and adding three handfuls of hand-washing soap before stirring it in with her hand. Then we dumped in the whites and let them soak before scrubbing them in our fists over the knuckles. There was a second bin for rinsing and a third with a fabric softener in it. I learned that jeans really do bleed blue dye, which is why we washed them last. I was worn out pretty quickly; we were stooped over the tub, and apparently my hands and wrists are fairly weak, because after the second complete batch of clothing, I found it hard to wring out the bigger pieces like pants and sweaters. Afterward, we hung everything inside-out on the clothes rack in the yard. Inside-out in case something fell to the dusty, reddish ground or the wind blew dirt particles on them. Are washing machines more convenient? Sure. But I used way less water and energy by hand washing and line-drying them and I only had to set aside an hour-and-a-half. 2 podcasts later, I had finished washing my clothes by hand. I’ve had washing machines break down on me at inconvenient times, so this is definitely a good skill to have under my belt.